It’s easy to see why Derek Fisher got caught up in the Knicks’ big win over the defending champion Spurs in the Garden on Tuesday night.
In case you’ve been under a rock, the Knicks have been abysmal in Fisher’s first season, sporting the league’s worst record.
So even if the Spurs played their worst game of the season, compelling coach Gregg Popovich to call their effort in an overtime defeat, “pathetic,’’ it was expected that Fisher would hail his troops for a job well done.
“They have this inside of them,’’ Fisher said at his post-game press conference. “They’re capable of doing this on more nights than we have. It symbolizes that we are growing, that we are moving in a positive direction.’’
But it won't be a plus if the Knicks, 14-53, keep adding wins to their ledger.
That’s right. The idea, as Fisher should know and should always keep in the front of his mind, is to play hard and... lose. Call it tanking if you wish, but the one thing that the Knicks can’t do is to keep adding to their win total.
With games against two other bottom-feeders this week -- 14-52 Minnesota is in the Garden tomorrow night and then the Knicks go to Philly to play the 15-52 Sixers on Friday -- the Knicks have a good chance to solidify their last-place standing. That will aid the big-picture cause -- getting the most Ping-Pong balls they can for the lottery to help along the team's rebuilding process.
Just remember, Knicks fans: For the good of the franchise, it’s all about making this disaster-of-a-season a success. The only way to do that is by coming away with one of the top players in the draft in June. You want the No. 1 pick overall. There's no guarantee they'll win the lottery, but the idea is to load up on Ping-Pong balls.
Here’s why: There’s no guarantee the Knicks can attract a top free agent, even when they’ll have zillions of dollars to spend under the salary cap.
As poorly as the Spurs played, probably overlooking the Knicks, it’s worth remembering how the Spurs built their franchise and became the NBA’s model organization. It was done through the draft, with some very, very good luck when they won the lottery for Tim Duncan. Since then, they had some incredibly shrewd drafting when they found Tony Parker with the 28th pick, and Manu Ginobili, who was taken in the second round, at No. 57.
Even since they put this team together, the Spurs have been ahead of the curve, and there’s a lesson Phil Jackson can learn from, as he tries to rebuild the Knicks. As much as Popovich despises the three-point shot, he’s embraced it to the point where he changed his entire offense a few seasons ago to feature the shot.
Last June, after his team had led the league in threes during the season, Popovich was asked about using the shot as a weapon, as his team was busy dismantling LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. “I hate it,’’ he said during a press conference on an off-day in the Finals. “To me, it’s not basketball. It feels like cheating.’’
But give him credit: Popovich has adapted to how the game has changed and was smart enough to do what had to be done to keep the Spurs in the title hunt.
As Duncan has gotten older and has drifted further from the basket, they’ve scrapped the inside-out, pounding style they used to win their first title in 1999, against the Knicks, and have gone to a spread attack, with lots of up-tempo motion and cutting. For the last few seasons they regularly look for the open three-point shooter.
The change was good enough to get the Spurs their fifth banner of the Duncan Era last June and might still be good enough for them to make another title run this June.
What’s the lesson here for the Knicks?
Change can be good. If the Spurs could change their offense, there’s no reason that Jackson can’t change the way he approaches the game. It’s all about the triangle offense, even if the Knicks haven’t used a ton of it this season. But Jackson and Fisher are both fully committed to it, to the point where free agents might not want to come to New York to play in it.
We’ll see how that plays out in July and if Jackson's insistence on using the system comes back to haunt them. But before that, the Knicks will hope to add the best player in the draft. So they need to remember that as they play out the final 15 games. If they know what’s good for them, there’s a lot of losing still to be done.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence